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When you die, your assets are distributed to a list of beneficiaries. A will allows you to determine who those assets go to. Keep in mind that wills do not cover beneficiaries named on life insurance policies, trusts and retirement plan assets. Those assets are separate and you must individually name beneficiaries for them. If you do not create a will, your assets are automatically transferred to your children. If you do not have children, the assets are transferred to the next closest member of your family. In California, if you have no will and no living relatives, your assets are transferred to the State of California.

Step 1: Write Your Will

There are three basic options for writing a will. They are:

Option 1: California law allows individuals to make handwritten wills. For handwritten wills, you must handwrite everything on the will. If the will contains sections that are typed, it may be considered invalid to help prevent fraud. You must sign and date your handwritten will, but witnesses and/or notarization is not required.

Option 2: You may fill out a statutory will with the State Bar’s official will form. This basic form helps settle smaller estates and simple divisions of gifts. It allows you to fill in blanks with the names of the individuals you want to receive your assets. For this basic fill-in-the-blank will, you will need to name an executor and have the will signed by two witnesses.

Option 3: Have a will created by a lawyer. Professional prepared wills are necessary for more complicated wills, especially ones that include additional provisions for determining beneficiaries. However, even the simplest wills are often prepared by licensed attorneys. Having a legal professional prepare your will ensures that all assets are correctly and legally distributed. More importantly, attorneys are experienced at acting as executors.

Step 2: Store your will

Place your original will in a safe location, such as a safe deposit box or safe, fireproof box in your home. Alert your executor and family where the will is in the event of your death.

Step 3: Periodically Update Your Will

Periodically check your will and make updates to it by filling out a codicil. Codicils are revisions to your existing will. The California State Bar Association does not provide an official codicil form. It is recommended that you get assistance from an attorney if you wish to update your will with a codicil.

Additional Resources

“Do I Need a Will?”
California Statutory Will

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